Paper honors its heroes

The paper industry international hall of fame: After the cinema and sports, paper, too, honors its heroes. In Wisconsin, USA, an institution is born to celebrate the pioneers of the paper industry.


Papermaking knows no boundaries. A society in a small corner of Wisconsin, USA, makes certain that world's papermakers (regardless of the kinds paper they turned out) are remembered for their contributions to the welfare of humanity and to the development of this fascinating industrial sector. The roots of making the product we call "paper" are usually considered by scholars to have been in the countryside of China, where Ts'ai Lung and his colleagues converted the inner bark of the mulberry tree into a paper-like sheet. The resultant sheets provided a useful surface which could be scribed upon. This technology in its essence is not a whole lot different from the methods employed over the last 2000 years, i.e., fibers of cellulosic material were mixed in a slurry and formed into a sheet and dried.

TS'AI LUNG'S KNOW-HOW CERTAINLY WAS NOT BOTTLED UP IN THE FAR REACHES OF ASIA.....it made the trip westward across the endless steppes of that continent to such stops as Tashkent and on to Asia Minor and to the Eastern Mediterranean and Moorish civilization of North Africa. From there it was only a small jump across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain and thereupon to France, Italy, and beyond. These stops along the paper trail are well-documented in paper history, and I believe that just about everybody with a spark of historical curiosity who spent much time in this industry at one time or another heard or read about the ancient mills. Agreed! But how many of us with a love and a lust for paper and its lore can name the individuals who led the cellulose crusade from Taiwan to Europe and on to the New World? For a million dollars (today's minimum for TV game show winners!) could you come up with the names of, say, five paper pioneers? Or even three? The good news is that there is a group whose membership (small by global standards) is dedicated to perpetuating knowledge and appreciation of the papermaking occupation and the people who spent their lives contributing to it in one way or another.

IT'S CALLED THE PAPER INDUSTRY INTERNATIONAL HALL OF FAME, INC., AND IT IS LOCATED IN APPLETON, WISCONSIN, USA. Why Appleton, you may ask, and the answer is, "Why not?" Can you think of a better place? Appleton is in the heart of the State of Wisconsin's fabled, historic paper industry. There are other locations in parts of America just as deserving, e.g., Massachusetts, Pennsylvania or Ohio, that played pioneering roles in papermaking down through the history of the country and the industry. But Appleton's credentials definitely stand out. Appleton is situated in the midst of innumerable traditional papermaking communities which took advantage of the superb combination of readily available forests, ample fresh, pure water, hardworking mill hands (many of them recent arrivals from similar environments in Northern Europe), railroad and water transportation and the ready markets of a growing new land. There were secret ingredients: entrepreneurship and budding technology. Although few persons were rich in those days, there was a strong presence of ambitious businessmen who managed to scrape together enough capital to erect small mills. Machine shops in the vicinity provided much of the required hardware. All these elements grew and prospered together and Wisconsin became the No. 1 papermaking state in USA, a distinction it retains today with a workforce of over 50,000 and many thousands more in the forests. As the years passed, the word spread around the nation and around the world. Students flocked to Appleton, masters degreed engineers and PhDs educated in Appleton filtered out to paper industry jobs, proudly bearing their technological acumen near and far, and "Appleton" became synonymous with the Institute of Paper Chemistry. (Our friends in the South will happily tell you that the IPC moved to Georgia late in the last century part of the exodus of the American forest products industry to the Southern pine region.)

ALL THE ABOVE QUITE LOGICALLY LED IN 1992 TO THE FORMATION OF THE PAPER INDUSTRY INTERNATIONAL HALL OF FAME. The idea was nurtured by paper executives who wanted to recognize the industry's founders and builders in a suitable and ongoing manner. But it is only fairly recently that the organization moved into its own permanent, suitable quarters, naturally in an old paper mill, which was donated by the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, world giant tissue manufacturer and a household name of papermaking excellence. "Paper Valley," besides being home to papermakers and mills owners, has an esprit de corps, an intense sense of community and pride. None of its towns are large in population, but together they are a closely knit group of activists. Forming the Hall of Fame was an easy task compared to the challenge now before them: raising the US$2.5 million to make the Hall a physical reality. The KC-donated Adams Mill is being totally renovated to become a museum dedicated not only to the historical past but also to the future. Young people will be exposed to the industry and the careers it offers. The public will see how paper is made. The cellulosic base will come alive, with sustained forestry emphasized. In short, it will be a "living museum" that keeps up with accomplishments of each passing year. Paper Valley has a second mark of distinction beyond paper. It is home, or second home, to innumerable paper industry suppliers. Foreign firms, mostly European, find it an ideal base for their North American activities. And in a number of cases, European machinery firms have bought out local companies in accordance with today's globalization. These easily recognized companies can be found here: Albany International, Appleton Mills, Asten, ECC.

International, Gencorp Specialty Polymers, PCMC, Scapa Rolls, Thiele Kaolin, Voith Sulzer and Fabio Perini.

AN OLD MILL IS RESCUED TO BECOME THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN OF THE HALL OF FAME. There is something magical about an old paper mill. In visits to various countries, I never fail to be impressed with these antiques which were active players in the run-up to our modern-day civilization. Paper and progress in their innumerable forms are hand-in-glove partners. Paper lovers' thanks are due to the Kimberly-Clark Corporation. This global tissue giant, which is among the most-recognizable of paper manufacturers anywhere, was spawned in the Atlas Paper Co.'s mill in 1878, the first plant to bear a K-C nameplate, nowadays a common site around the globe. It is now the home of the Hall of Fame and, with the planned remodeling of the interior, it will retain much of its original architectural integrity. It was here that the process of making suitable paper from a furnish of mechanical pulp (groundwood) was successfully demonstrated industrially in the State of Wisconsin. Before this development, paper was mostly based on jute as the cellulosic raw material. The early papers comprised wrappings, printings, bond, black photo album paper and even a "poison fly paper." Toilet paper was one of the innovations that followed, despite the mill's lack of any scientifically trained graduates or a lab; it would be well into the 20th Century before Atlas lunched its own R&D department.

FUND RAISING. The ambitious museum project is being financed to the tune of US$2.5 million by donations from many sources. Paper mill companies and suppliers are giving along with the local community organizations, such as the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is giving US$250,000. US$75,000 of that grant is going for a permanent exhibit chronicling the Fox River and the many mills along its banks which prompted the nickname: The Paper Valley. The paper pioneers who built the industry will be featured. The architect for the mill renovation, Steve Gries, noted that the ancient structure is in excellent condition and can be restored to its new function relatively cheaply.

IGNITING YOUNG PEOPLE'S INTEREST IN PAPER. Young visitors will be able to make their own paper---an excellent "hands-on" way to kindle their curiosity, at the same time perhaps planting the seeds for eventual careers in the paper industry. The Internet will have a role here, too, with terminals directly linking to websites of paper and allied companies. There will even be a theater as part of an "expanded learning" program conducted by Hall of Fame and industry personnel. Forestry as a natural resource and its relation to paper, along with recycling, will also be stressed. Development Director Chris Doyle told the Perini Journal, "These resources will be directed to broadening the understanding of all levels of visitors on the accomplishments of papermakers the world over and the contributions of paper to our quality of life and culture. All of us here in this corner of Wisconsin, USA, are pleased to participate in the Hall of Fame and the museum. When the project is finished, we look at it not as an end but as a beginning as a start to bring a world of ideas to the banks of the Fox River."

DEMOCRACY REIGNS. The only requirement for persons to be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame is that one (man or woman, living or dead) must have pioneered in the development of the paper industry or have uniquely furthered its progress. Nominees can come from paper-related activities. Hall of Fame cofounder and chairman George Mueller (former president of Wisconsin Tissue Mills) says, "This is quite fitting, for products and services of such entities --technical, academic, machine, etc. -- have been, and remain, vital to the success of the pulp and paper industry." Nominations can be made by anyone; two sponsors are required. The first inductees came aboard in 1995. Another group was honored in October 2000. The total to date is 35. A fair percentage of these are natives of Europe or Asia.

Many of them represent US companies with foreign operations. And some genuine veteran papermakers have made the list to date, including William Rittenhouse of the Rittenhouse paper mill, America's first, and K-C founders John A. Kimberly and Charles B. Clark. It is not surprising that about one third of Hall of Fame honorees are closely identified with the tissue industry, since Wisconsin's "Paper Valley" is one of the most prominent tissue paper enclaves. The Hall's board members and advisory board members comprise top managers from many of America's pulp, paper, supplier companies, along with representatives from academia, R&D, associations. Thomas C. Norris is deserving of special recognition for carrying a big load on his shoulders as the Hall of Fame Capital Campaign Chairman, i.e., the top fund-raiser. He has 40 years experience in paper with the P.H. Glatfelter Co., York, Pennsylvania, and retired as CEO just this Spring. He exemplifies the tradition and high principles of the Hall of Fame, and when he took over this new "job," he said, "I am honored to be associated with such a worthwhile industry cause and its mission to honor the past and inspire the future." He is joined in his efforts by Daniel Waselchuk, retired VP of Wisconsin Tissue Mills, and Director of Development Chris Doyle.

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